Growing popularity indicates more than knowledge gained at annual camps

By Olivia Norton

COLLEGE STATION – Each summer hundreds of school-aged kids are brought to the Texas A&M University campus, led by their interest in sports, history, engineering and science. However, for more than 1,100 4-H and FFA students and parents, it was a shared love of agriculture and animals that brought them this summer to one of the numerous camps hosted by the Department of Animal Science.

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Dr. Ron Gill gives a live demonstration to 47 students during the first Commercial Steer Camp at Texas A&M. Students spent two days learning how to successfully raise their show steers.

These camps are designed for students who show livestock animals or participate in judging animals at county, state and national livestock shows and competitions.

For two to three days at a time, students from around the country gather for a high impact, hands-on experience. They are taught all there is to know about being successful with their show projects or judging animals, while also being exposed to Texas A&M and the Department of Animal Science faculty, students and programs.

Call them like you see them
Evaluating livestock is more than picking the most desirable animal out of a lineup. It teaches critical thinking, decision making and confidence through defending one’s opinion on the class. The Texas A&M Livestock Judging Team and the Horse Judging Team are both nationally recognized programs, so it’s no surprise 335 competitors traveled here this year to learn from the best.

The Livestock Judging Camp brought in 215 attendees from as many as eight different states during their three sessions held in May and June. Centered on selection principles, oral reasons, live market evaluation and breeding animal performance data, students were surrounded by experts in these fields as well as current judging team members who take full advantage of encouraging the next generation of judges. Campers were even given an opportunity to test their new skills by way of a mock contest on the last day.

“Livestock judging is one of the few activities that forces students to make logical decisions then justify those decisions in an organized manner. The evaluation of livestock aids in boosting animal efficiency but in the grand scheme of things, these animals are used as a vehicle to develop young leaders,” said Brant Poe, Livestock Judging Team coordinator and coach. “We want students to come away from our camp with passion and valuable skills that will carry them into adulthood.”

Similarly, the Horse Judging Camp is growing in popularity. Dr. Clay Cavinder, associate professor and Horse Judging Team coach, said, “This year marked the seventh year I have done these camps and the attendance keeps getting bigger. We started in 2007 with 85 and have increased to as many as 125.”

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The ability to evaluate livestock is instrumental for agricultural students, such as those who attend camp, to ensure the continuity of high quality market animals.

During the three-day camp, students spend time with animal science faculty, receiving instruction on both halter and performance horse classes.  To complement their newly acquired skills, students also participated in both large and small group instruction sessions on writing and speaking oral reasons led by current team members.

“This camp provides these kids with an experience they may not get anywhere else. It brings them to campus, helps them build relationships with each other as competitors, and gives them the tools to take home and get better at something they love to do,” Cavinder said. “Each year, we commit to getting better at conveying our message to these students and that is obvious when we see former campers going on to do big things at competitions.”

Showing off    
The Texas A&M Department of Animal Science is one of the largest, most complex programs of its kind in the country which enables it to host one of a kind learning opportunities. For example, the Aggieland Lamb and Goat Camps are not only two of the more unique events bringing newcomers to campus, but also the largest of the camps.

Aggieland Lamb and Goat Camps were held on July 19-21 and July 26-28, 2013, respectively. Both camps proved to be a huge success as 365 Lamb Camp and 374 Goat Camp attendees walked away with more knowledge, experience and skills about their lamb or goat projects. Both camps are engineered to extensively educate campers and their families on the basics of their livestock project, beginning with facilities, selection and feeding all the way through exercise, show day preparation and showmanship.

“These camps enable these young people to learn the basics of animal husbandry and how to be successful with their lamb and goat projects,” said Dr. Shawn Ramsey, associate professor. “We use raising livestock as a way to educate and develop young people. As a result, they learn hard work, responsibility, time management, sportsmanship and numerous other life skills. They also develop an appreciation for agriculture.”

Young students are not the only ones to grow in knowledge from the Aggieland Lamb and Goat Camps — parents are also encouraged to attend. “This camp is unique as it brings students, parents and their animals together,” said Ramsey. “A key component of this program is that it is a ‘family affair.’ Being successful with your animal is having the technical knowledge that young students struggle to understand, and that is where the parents come in and help the most.”

New to the annual camps, a Commercial Steer Camp was offered on Aug. 1-2. For the first time, 47 participants came to the Texas A&M campus to learn about cattle selection, nutrition, health and meat science aspects of the youth commercial steer project. Representatives from the Houston Livestock Show, San Antonio Stock Show and Texas Cattle Feeders Association Junior Fed Beef Challenge discussed rules of the project, and past exhibitors and beef cattle educators taught the participants how to raise commercial steers and successfully compete at the show.  During this two-day program, six finished steers were followed through the process of being converted to boxed beef.

Training champions

Students come away from these camps with more than just knowledge gained. Just ask recent horse judging campers Lauren Moore and Trevor Yglecias, who have found success putting these newly-gained skills to use.

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Students at the Aggieland Goat Camp and the Aggieland Lamb Camp learn how to improve their showmanship skills and are taught the importance of responsibility in handling their animals.

Lauren Moore, 16, of Canyon, Texas, has attended the Horse Judging Camp since 2009 to build upon and enhance skills she has gathered in six years of competitive horse judging. “My team and I were going to be competing at the Texas 4-H Roundup the week after camp so it was convenient to attend before the state competition,” Moore recalled. “Also, I love Aggieland and have a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Cavinder and all of the Horse Judging Team.”

Many years of pursuing her passion and spending hot summer days in Pearce Pavilion at camp paid off this past year for Moore and her team. “My team and I won the state championship at 4-H Roundup! It was a very emotional experience because we won reserve champion team in 2012 and made a goal to win the next year, and we did,” she said. “The judging camp is so helpful, I always learn a lot and look forward to the next camp.”

Not every success story begins with an extensive agricultural background, just ask 18-year-old Trevor Yglecias from Robinson, Texas. “My parents were not involved in the agricultural field,” said Yglecias. “For the short time I have been around horses, I have learned that no matter how much you think you know about horses you will never know everything about horses and never stop learning.”

After four years of attending the Horse Judging Camp, Yglecias said there has been a noticeable difference in his performance on the judging floor. “This past season was by far the best judging season that I have had and I have to give a huge amount of credit to the Texas A&M Horse Judging Camp and Team.”

Simply being on campus each summer was a shaping experience for Yglecias. “I fell in love with A&M. I had never been to a college where you can walk by a random person and say ‘Howdy’ to them,” Yglecias said. “I hope that I will be able to attend Texas A&M for all four years.”

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Critical thinking and decision making coupled with an oral defense of class placing add an element of intensity for students who are learning to judge horses.

Welcome home
The benefits associated with attending one of the many summers camps do not  begin and end with students. Each camp has become an effective recruitment tool for the Department of Animal Science. Students and parents who come to the Texas A&M campus receive more than livestock knowledge. Each person is immersed in the Aggie culture as well as the dynamics of the department. One such example is Kayley Wall, a junior animal science major whose attendance at numerous Aggieland Lamb Camps shaped her future plans.

“I already knew I wanted to be an Aggie; however, the Aggieland Lamb Camp certainly solidified my decision to attend Texas A&M,” Wall said. “As for selecting my major, I decided I wanted to claim what I had a passion for, and Aggieland Lamb & Goat Camps helped me in choosing, more so appropriately naming, the career field I was interested in.”

Once a student a Texas A&M, Wall’s involvement with the summer camps didn’t come to an end, as she has been an instructor and coordinator for the camps since 2010. “It is an indescribable feeling to have the opportunity to educate and motivate youth about their projects. I love thinking that I am helping to attract more Aggies and generate a greater interest in not only showing livestock but also the Department of Animal Science.”

For more information on the camps and other youth programs offered by the Department of Animal Science, visit http://animalscience.tamu.edu/workshops/youth-workshops/.

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Olivia Norton is a sophomore Animal Science major from Texarkana, Texas.


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at cacoufal@tamu.edu or (979) 845-1542.

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